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Vincente Minnelli
William Powell, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire
Writing Credits:

The late, great impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. looks down from Heaven and ordains a new revue in his grand old style.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Stereo
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 6/15/2021

• Vintage Short
• 2 Classic Cartoons
• “An Embarrassment of Riches” Featurette
• Audio Only Extras
• Trailer


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The Great Ziegfeld [Blu-Ray] (1945)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 9, 2021)

When a movie’s promotional blurb refers to it as the “greatest production since the birth of motion pictures”, it sets the bar pretty high. Will 1945’s The Ziegfeld Follies achieve those heights?

Now deceased and living in heaven, show business impresario Florenz Siegfeld Jr. (William Powell) muses about his life as a mortal. He remembers all the shows he produced and considers the performers with whom he worked.

From there, heavenly Ziegfeld orchestrates a series of performances ala one of his old “Follies” stage shows. We watch a mix of song, dance and comedy pieces.

As such, this means we get no actual plot from Follies - not beyond the set-up, at least. Once Ziegfeld thinks about the idea that he could stage one last show, the film devotes its entire running time to those segments.

Apparently moviegoers ate up this fare in the 1940s, as Follies sold a lot of tickets. Audiences of the day craved this sort of entertainment and the flick turned into a hit.

Clearly its cast became the motivating factor in the film’s success. In addition to Powell – who essentially reprises his role from 1936’s Oscar-winning Great Ziegfeld - we find stars such as Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Lena Horne, Red Skelton, Fanny Brice, Lucille Ball, and many others

That becomes an unimpeachable collection of talent. The movie occasionally presents them in the best light, but it can seem erratic.

Admittedly, the styles of music and comedy on display here really don’t go up my alley. I can appreciate the artistry of the song/dance performances, but they don’t connect to me in a meaningful manner.

Still, Follies does best when it focuses on the production numbers. These might not rock my particular world, but they offer nice staging most of the time and manage to give fans of the various genres what they desire.

I do find a few musical scenes to work well. “A Great Lady Has ‘An Interview’” with Judy Garland mixes humor and song well – and Garland looks surprisingly sexy.

Also, “The Babbitt and the Bromide” pairs Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire in a charming manner. It’s a blast to see these two legends dance together, even if the song the croon seems less than stellar.

It’s too bad Follies didn’t conclude with the back to back punch of ‘’’Interview’” and “Babbitt”. Unfortunately, the film finishes with the screechy, maudlin warbling of Kathryn Grayson’s “There’s Beauty Ev’rywhere”. Grayson was a total babe, but this performance sends us home on a sour note.

Follies also tends to falter with its comedy sequences, as most both run too long and seem too uninspired. A bit about a guy whose lawyer goes to absurd extremes to avoid a $2 fine actually comes with some laughs, but the rest stretch thin premises past the point of much possible amusement.

I also don’t feel wild about the attempts to broaden musical sequences past the usual song/dance stuff. We get Esther Williams’ underwater ballet and an operatic segment, neither of which works.

Unsurprisingly, Follies comes with some “less than PC” content as well. In addition to a puppet that depicts Eddie Cantor in blackface, the biggest offender probably stems from the decision to try to get Astaire to look Asian for “Limehouse Blues”.

This fails mainly due to racial tone-deafness. However, it also flops because the makeup causes Astaire to look more like a deformed man than an Asian.

I can’t claim that Follies does much for me, but I can appreciate the artistry on display. The target audience for this kind of musical theater should enjoy much of it.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

The Ziegfeld Follies appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a nice presentation, especially given the film’s age.

In terms of sharpness, the movie usually demonstrated appealing delineation. A few shots seemed somewhat soft, especially the comedy routine with Keenan Wynn.

However, those issues occurred infrequently, so the majority of the flick looked concise and accurate. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and no edge enhancement became apparent. Grain remained appropriate, and no specks, marks or other defects showed up at any time in this fresh presentation.

Colors were strong. A Technicolor production that embraced a variety of tones, the hues tended to be vivid and full.

Blacks seemed deep and dense without too much heaviness. Shadow detail worked similarly well, as dimly-lit shots were appropriately clear and thick. I found little about which to complain here and thought the Blu-ray brought the movie to life in a positive manner.

The DTS-HD MA stereo audio of Follies appeared fine for its era. Music enjoyed nice stereo spread, but the track didn’t attempt much more than that. Still, given that most movies from 1945 only offered monaural mixes, the stereo of Follies became a nice bonus.

Speech was fine. The lines showed age-related thinness, but they were always perfectly intelligible and without edginess.

Effects became a minor aspect of the track, and they resembled the dialogue. Those elements lacked much depth but they were without notable problems.

Music was fine for its age, though the songs and score tended to be a bit tinny. There wasn’t much range to the music, but again, that stemmed from the limitations of the very old source. This became a pretty appealing mix for its vintage.

As we move to extras, a Vintage Short called The Luckiest Guy in the World runs 21 minutes, nine seconds. Referred to as “A Crime Does Not Pay Subject”, it features insurance salesman Charles Vurn (Barry Nelson), a schlub who constantly seeks his big financial break.

Charles eventually gets what seems to be a path to big bucks, but he learns… crime does not pay! The short comes with a bit of entertainment value, but it seems simplistic and moralizing.

Next we get two Classic Cartoons: The Hick Chick (7:10) and Solid Serenade (7:25). Directed by Tex Avery, the former pits an unsophisticated country bird in a competition with a suave city rooster to win the affection of a cute hen. Nothing novel occurs, but the short comes with some clever and funny bits.

A Tom & Jerry effort, during Serenade, Tom tries to woo a female feline via a musical performance. Because Jerry wants just to sleep, he becomes agitated and attempts to halt his foe. Though not bad, the short lacks much to really impress.

A featurette called An Embarrassment of Riches spans 14 minutes, 13 seconds and involves notes from historians John Fricke, Hugh Fordin, and James Gavin, and actors Cyd Charisse, Kathryn Grayson and Gloria De Haven.

“Riches” looks at the project’s origins and path to the screen as well as unused/abandoned sequences, editing, and the film’s release. This becomes a tight little overview.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a slew of Audio-Only Extras. Here we locate “’Here’s to the Girls’ – Alternate Take with Unused Ending” (Fred Astaire)” (6:26), “’Liza’ – Unused Musical Sequence (Avon Long & Co.)” (6:14), “’We Will Meet Again in Honolulu’ – Unused Musical Sequence (James Melton & Co.)” (5:33), “’A Cowboy’s Life’ – Unused Musical Sequence (James Melton & Co.)” (4:44), “’E Pinched Me’ – Partially Used in ‘Limehouse Blues’ Sequence (Kay Thomas Vocal)” (0:39), “’Look at Me, I’m an Indian’ – Partially Used in Opening Puppet Sequence (Fanny Brice Vocal)” (0:48), “’You’ve Got to Start Every Day with a Song’ – Unused ‘Pied Piper’ Sequence (Jimmy Durante Vocal)” (4:35), “Leo the Lion Speaks” (1:46), “’There’s Beauty Ev’rywhere’ – Unused Final Sequence (James Melton & Co.)” (7:51), and “’Love’ (Spanish Language Version Performed by Lena Horne)” (3:37).

That’s an awful lot of musical material (mostly), and fans should revel in this collection. I think these clips add a lot to the package.

As a compilation of performances from many of the era’s biggest stars, The Ziegfeld Follies offers a lot of entertainment for fans of this period. The film feels spotty to me, but I suspect others with greater affinity for the styles of music on display will love it. The Blu-ray comes with strong picture, relatively good audio and a nice array of bonus materials. Follies offers an interesting view of 1940s musical talent.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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